Allow me a moment to brag here. Just another day in the life of Name Geek Victory.
I was doing some research for my book, specifically on Yucatec Mayan baby names. I came across some interesting info which seemed to point to the word “shark” deriving from a Yucatec word, “xoc“. However, most dictionaries hold that the origin is “unknown”.
This seems odd to me, when you think about it.
- We started using the word “shark” in English right around the time Europeans were arriving on the shores of the Americas (1500s). Specifically, there seems to be a connection to the period in the 1560s when John Hawkins arrived in the Caribbean. The English were using “sharke” by 1569.
- Although sharks exist all over the world, the European lifestyle and climate did not allow as much exposure to them as compared with people in Central America. For the English, this would be a unique experience and discovery. The Maya lived in a region with more exposure to and awareness of these creatures, and naturally, they could feasibly introduce the word to these visitors.
- Think of an English accent. We could imagine the possibility that the way they pronounced “shark” (with a nearly absent “r”, audibly) is the same way the natives would say their own word, xoc (sounds like “shock”, or maybe “shoke”). It makes sense that the English would spell it this way when lifting the word. It would also differentiate it from slight-homophone, “shock”.
- The meaning of “xoc” is actually “shark”. Coincidence? I think not!
Historically, culturally, and linguistically, it makes total sense. So I mentioned it to my favorite online etymology source, Etymonline.
The bottom portion is after our conversation. The site owner added the theory to the etymology for “shark”! I know not everyone can appreciate me geeking out over this, but trust me… it felt like just another great day and job well done in the world of language. For little old me, anyway. I think maybe what made it such a big deal is that I actually respect them (in a world full of bad sources), and they considered my info. I thought the info was pretty damn good, but still, it was great to feel like I had added or contributed somehow.
Baby names are just one form of expression of language. The study of names is a study in cultures and languages. This is why I examine them so closely and take them seriously. They are just one aspect, one facet, but are used for identity… they can come from anywhere and mean anything, and they deserve my respect.
So, I was thrilled that a source that I love so much followed up on my info and added it. Etymonline also happens to be one of many reliable sources I use in my upcoming book. You can find them in the list with other references once the book is finally out. 😉
In the spirit of fairness, arguments against this theory can be found here.